If there is one thing that is well known in the pasture, I am a big fan of volunteering time at our area school. The school is small but the need for volunteers is still quite big. That is true in any school. After conversations with staff and administrators in districts with 500 students to high schools of 1,500, one common theme runs true, volunteers are needed and appreciated.
So when I noticed that the NEA (National Education Association) daily bulletin addressed volunteerism in two consecutive issues, it caught my eye. What also caught my eye was the way that the word volunteer was defined.
In reporting a story from the Tulsa, Oklahoma area, it was told of a program to team students with senior adults. One aspect is to have fourth graders and these senior volunteers to be involved with each other in a "lunch buddy" program. Sandie Sullivan, a planner with the Tulsa Area Agency on Aging, explained the program by saying "so many of these kids don't have seniors in their own families nearby and the kids just soak up the one-on-one attention." In addition to the time together bridging a generation gap, one coordinator stated an additional benefit: both students and seniors get a well-balanced meal.
That's a great program!
But then there is another volunteer program that I have some concerns about. It's not the program itself but maybe the way they define "volunteer".
This program is straight from the Ohio state legislature. A bill was introduced this session that "would require parents to donate at least 13 hours to their school district each year or pay" a fine of $100.
Wait a minute. In my understanding of the human language, words such as volunteer and donate are used to represent a gift. It is not mandatory. But in Ohio, if the legislation passes, a donation becomes mandatory and refusal to comply is punishable by law and a fine?
The bill also requires school districts to report non-participating parents to the Ohio Department of Education. And of course, these volunteer mentors would have to pass background checks and complete annual training courses that the district would have to develop.
Now, did any of the legislators that signed on ever think that maybe there were a few parents out there that might not be able to take time and volunteer? Maybe a time requirement would be impossible because their jobs don't allow that flexibility or maybe a single parent is working two jobs just to keep clothes on their kids' back.
This program has some major flaws.
I think if I am looking for a new pasture, I'm headed towards a state that defines volunteerism like Oklahoma. Ohio won't come on my radar screen.